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E.P.A. Bans Sale of Tree-Killing Herbcide

E.P.A. Bans Sale of Tree-Killing Herbicide, Imprelis

Lawsuits have been filed and are pending based upon Imprelis, a weed killer introduced this year that landscapers link to thousands of tree deaths around the country.

By Jim Robbins, Correspondent / August 11, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency banned the sale on Thursday of Imprelis, a weed killer introduced this year that landscapers link to thousands of tree deaths around the country.

DuPont, which held discussions with the E.P.A. on the herbicide, suspended sales of the product last week and announced plans for a refund program. The company already faces lawsuits from property owners who lost numerous trees after landscapers began applying Imprelis to lawns and golf courses this spring.

A spokesman for the E.P.A., Larry Jackson, said the agency acted because data provided by DuPont showed that at least three types of evergreens — balsam fir, Norway spruce and white pine trees — were susceptible to damage or death from Imprelis.

In a statement, the agency said it was investigating whether the widespread tree deaths resulted from misuse of the weed killer, inadequate warnings or directions on the product’s label, its persistence in soil and plant material or other factors.

Kate Childress, a spokeswoman for DuPont, said that the data mentioned by the E.P.A. indicated vulnerability only when the three tree species were exposed to “extreme conditions” in tests. “We did them to understand the tolerance and sensitivity of these species under extreme conditions,” she said. Those tests were conducted before the product was approved by the E.P.A. last fall, she added. Whether the product will return to the market after the agency’s review is unclear.

Only turf and landscaping professionals were allowed to buy or apply Imprelis. While it has been highly effective at killing clover and broad-leafed weeds like dandelions, landscapers say, nearby evergreens in many cases began dying within weeks of the first applications. Some agricultural experts have suggested that the tree toll could reach into the hundreds of thousands.

Landscapers had initially welcomed the herbicide, which was marketed as an environmentally friendly product that did not, for example, pose risks to animals. However, state environmental officials in New York did not approve its use because in tests the herbicide did not bind with soil and seeped into the groundwater.

The national law firm Parker, Waichman and has filed a dozen lawsuits against DuPont over the tree deaths in federal courts across the Midwest, and more are pending.

“We expect at the end of the day there’s going to be more than a billion dollars of damage or as much as several billion,” said Jordan Chaikin, a partner in the firm. “You are talking about a lot of people who have dead trees 40 to 50 feet tall, 30 or 50 years old that each cost $20,000 or $25,000 to replace.”

Imprelis has also caused concern among composters. DuPont warns in its instructions that grass clippings treated with Imprelis should not be composted because the chemical does not break down.

“You have to ask why the E.P.A. would allow a chemical out there that doesn’t break down,” said Dan Sullivan, the managing editor of BioCycle Magazine. “It could be a problem for months or years to come.”


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